REACHING THE Northumberland FA Minor Cup Final is a dream come true for #Grainger Park boss Paul Harding.

He was like a kid at Christmas the night before Grainger’s emphatic 6-0 semi-final success at Stobswood Welfare with the excitement and anticipation keeping him up until the small hours.

“I didn’t sleep the night before the match, which never happens in our Northern Alliance games. On a personal level, I have always wanted to get to the #NFA Minor Cup Final ever since we changed from a junior team to a senior team ten years ago. I have been to these cup finals and loved the atmosphere and occasion.

It is a great night to be enjoyed by the players, staff and families,” he said.

But the joy of reaching the Final is tinged with a bit of sadness as the club has lost their patron and longest serving Chairperson George Barnes, who died recently.

“This game for us is dedicated to his memory,” said Paul.

No strangers to big occasion

Grainger Park were promoted from the Second Division of the #Northern Alliance up to the First last summer and the side were George Dobbins League Cup Finalists and Amateur Cup Finalists last season. They lifted the Amateur Cup the season before, having joined the Alliance in 2013/14. So the West End lads are no strangers to the big occasion and Harding says there’s no worry of them freezing on the night.

“Some of the players have been at Grainger Park since they were boys, so this is a big milestone in their football careers. A load of them have played in finals for Grainger Park, won leagues and cups at Grainger Park and won trophies for their Sunday teams, but this is the biggest single game for everyone.”

Like the Hazlerigg management, Paul feels that the shock heavy defeat inflicted on his side by their opponents, then of the Tyneside Amateur League, in the quarter-finals of the competition two years ago has no bearing on the Final.

“The 12-2 game is matterless. We have beaten teams by that score and it’s a one off. No one has mentioned it to me before now. A cup final is who can handle the occasion better and who hits form at the right time.”

“I haven’t had my strongest team out so far this season with work commitments, injuries, suspensions and Newcastle United season ticket holders, so hopefully with the final being played on a Friday night, I could be able to put in a strong performance.

We are going down the town after the game whatever the result!”

Never turned away

“It’s a huge occasion for Grainger Park. I am expecting a massive turnout from the club. We have 12 football teams and a large boxing section who will all be there supporting us. We are a community club based in Scotswood, in the heart of the west end of Newcastle. We bring through players at a very young age of ANY ability. We never turn anyone away. It's all about fun, feeling part of a team and enjoying a great team sport.”

The Grainger dressing rooms will be bouncing ahead of the game as the club have a DJ who spins the same tunes ahead of matches as the side are getting kitted up and they’ve been training twice a week in preparation ahead of the big game.

“The achievement of getting to the Final didn’t sink in until the Monday following the semis when people at work were asking me how it went, and I started getting "well done" messages by email and text. So it’s a brilliant feeling now Grainger Park FC are there,” said Paul.

Continued in Part Two